Postcard from Lisboa, Portugal: Endangered Artistry Underfoot

Polished as slick as marble by thousands of feet passing over them, the pleasing patterned sidewalks contribute greatly to the distinctive character of Lisboa.

I had thought that the slickness I felt underfoot was caused by the poor soles of my seemingly sensible shoes, worn down by miles logged on the River Walk at home and on the cobblestones and pavers of San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca, Mexico. While the rubber nubs of my soles are disappearing under the balls of my feet, that is not the only reason for a little slippage.

The reason I didn’t experience the same feeling in Porto was not shoe-related. An article published online by the The Wall Street Journal on June 1, noted Porto’s black and white pavers are made from granite, which is not as slippery smooth as the five-inch squares of limestone and black basalt residents of Lisboa must navigate daily.

Patricia Kowsmann wrote in The Wall Street Journal article:

Along Rua do Carmo, which slopes gently through an affluent shopping district, pedestrians caught in the rain last week navigated the sidewalk by clinging to lampposts, the facades of buildings or each other. Some gave up and stepped into the street, paying little attention to passing cars.

Obviously, I’m not alone. Old soles on old souls are always on the verge of spills.

But these sidewalks are simply stunning.

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As I periodically paused to snap photos, I had no idea the pavers could be an endangered species.

But Kowsmann reported elderly are in revolt, driven by their fears of falling. City officials now are authorized to replace sidewalks with more age-friendly materials when deemed appropriate. Although, are the city fathers’ concerns really with the aging population or the cost of continuing to hire craftsman to repair the existing mosaics?

Fortunately, Kowsmann says there has been some major backlash from preservationists and admirers of the artistry under their feet. As one man commented to Kowsmann, hopefully the city can simply rough the surface up a bit to prevent some of the spills.

It’s raining as I write this. Does this pair of seniors dare to brave the risk posed by the rain-slickened up or downhill routes to the closest stores or try to survive the evening safely holed up with one single bottle of wine?

Postcard from Porto: Parting Shots

The mood of Porto varies in accordance with the sun and the rain. On days when the sun is absent, the gray granite tinges the city with sadness. I take on the color of Porto each day. When there is sun, Porto awakes as cheerful as a teenager. The light of Porto is a warm yellow that penetrates the bodies of those who stand at the window. I was born and still live close to the sea. I don’t know how else to live. At the moment, I am living in Foz Velha, at the mouth of the river. There is a broad promenade facing the sea and lower, close to the beach, esplanades are open all year round. My life consists of rocks, sand, sea, and gulls. There I am, and the image of myself that I carry with me wherever I go.

Rosa Alice Branco

interviewed by Nathalie Handal on Words Without Borders

The weather in Porto is noted for being moody. Mercurial. Dictated by whatever the Atlantic sends its way.

As someone whose spirits are affected by dreary weather, the maritime gods bestowed their mercy upon me while we were there. In fact, the climate during our two-week stay was so sunny and temperate, I felt I could live there forever. Sometimes in the late afternoon, we would see semi-threatening gray clouds accumulating along the Atlantic shoreline. But the ridge stopped there, never rounding the bend into the mouth of the Douro River.

So we walked and we walked. Wending our way through layers of history built up over centuries. Up and down. Along both sides of the Douro. Crossing a bridge and even taking a ferry across. Here are some parting shots from our stay.

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Postcard from Porto: Exploring beyond the traditional fare

Pizza always beckons us at some point no matter where we roam. And, perched over the Douro River, the glass-walled Casa d’Oro boasts both a wood-burning oven and almost the best view in town. The pizzas were pretty good, and the arancini made up for missing Central Market’s Passaporto Italia. The  arugula and parmigiano salad was perfect, and even better when combined with the pear and goat cheese salad – a mountain of cubes of both those key ingredients.

With almost an equally prime view on the opposite side of the river from Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia, Real Indiana gave us a burst of flavors totally different from the traditional  dishes of Porto. Texas tastebuds had begun yearning for an infusion of spicy flavors, so the sauces were welcome. The mixed grilled meats as an appetizer were plentiful; each one – chicken, lamb, beef, gyro – had such wonderfully distinctive seasoning. The vegetable biryani was pleasing as well, and all the dishes seemed to pack more punch than Indian restaurants at home.

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Book Restaurante is among the restaurants updating traditional Portuguese dishes well. Located in a former book store in a downtown neighborhood with several others still surviving, the restaurant keeps shelves of books on the wall and delivers menus and checks in pages of (seemingly) random books. We ate there twice, our first experience being so positive – a lunch special of luscious carrot soup followed by a large timbal of potatoes, greens and crusty codfish. Our second visit was minus the lunch special, so had a painful pinch to it. But, aside from that, the tender tentacle of octopus twisted into a pot layered with roasted slices of sweet potatoes and greens was truly a remarkable dish.

Amazingly, our other contemporary-take experiences were right in our neighborhood. This past March, an enthusiastic new manager making a career change took over a traditional restaurant located in an old post office – O Carteiro. The results were both pleasing and geographically convenient. He introduced us to the refreshing drink of white port, tonic and mint. The kitchen makes a wonderful mixed-game sausage, which was a flavorful appetizer and wonderful as a stuffing for chicken, and the grilled sardines were the best we have had so far….